In memory of Honorary Member Nicholas John Habraken

Kazunobu Minami, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Shibaura Institute of Technology

Nicholaas John Habraken, Emeritus Professor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, passed away on October 21, 2023 at an elderly care facility in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, just before his 95th birthday. The farewell service was held on October 28 at a funeral home outside Apeldoorn. According to his daughter, Julie, a large atlas (world map) was open on the table near his bed, and when she tried to put it away, he asked her to leave it open. Those were the last words he spoke. On the nightstand was a book about Pompeii. The atlas that he had been looking at until the end of his life was placed open on the coffin at his memorial service. His daughter concluded the ceremony by reading the poem "Ithaca" by the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy. This poem - about a long journey toward a destination with high aspirations - was appropriate for Professor Habraken, who had spent his life searching for ordering principles about cities and architecture. As each of the participants said their farewells, Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" was played in the hall, a fitting choice for someone whose intellectual and professional endeavors aimed at urban architecture with jazz-like focus, unity and variation.

He spent his childhood in Indonesia, where he saw a book on Amsterdam School architecture in his father's library. It triggered his desire to become an architect. He walked in the indigenous kampong settlements and found life there to be vibrant and wonderfully varied and yet coherent. After the war, he moved to the Netherlands and studied architecture at Delft University of Technology from 1948 to 1955. He attended lectures on architectural history with great enthusiasm. As a student representative, he organized a tour of Italy led by Professor Marinus Jan Granpré Molière, and from that time on, he was interested in the urban fabric (the built field as he later called it). Since his student days, he had been uncomfortable with mass housing being built to ‘solve the housing problem.’

In 1961, he published "Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing," the starting point of his journey of study and advocacy, in which he argued that ‘the housing problem’ would not be solved until residents could become decisive and active agents in the housing process. This insight led to his proposal, in large projects, to separate the design of SUPPORTS (what all occupants share) from the INFILL (decided by or for each individual occupant). As the first director of the SAR (Foundation for Architects’ Research) from 1965 to 1975, he led the research on design methods for realizing the distinction between SUPPORTS and INFILL, as well as for the design of urban tissues. In 1967, he became the first Dean of the School of Architecture founded at Eindhoven University of Technology, and from 1975 to 1981 he was Professor and Head of the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he remained until his retirement in 1989. He focused his research on design theory and methods for cities and architecture, continued writing and teaching courses and exercises in Thematic Design, and lecturing internationally. He was one of the partners in the development in the Netherlands of the most advanced Infill system of the time: MATURA.

Professor Habraken’s ideas are organized and summarized in his many books, published and unpublished papers, and research reports. The Structure of the Ordinary (1998, MIT Press) and Palladio's Children (2005, Taylor and Francis) are two of his most important contributions. The Thematic Design exercises developed during his years at MIT were published as Conversations With Form: A Workbook for Students of Architecture (2014, Routledge), in collaboration with Professor Andrés Mignucci and Jonathan Teicher, his former students. He also published more than 60 articles throughout his life. The Short Works of John Habraken: Ways of Seeing / Ways of Doing (2023, Routledge) organizes them thematically and chronologically. The book is edited by Professor Dr. Stephen H. Kendall and architect John R. Dale, FAIA, who studied with Professor Habraken at MIT. Interviews with Professor Habraken are included at key points in the book. Open Building for Architects (2023, Routledge) is a book co-authored with Professor Kendall. The book presents 14 realized projects in various parts of the world (including healthcare, educational facilities, urban design and housing) and describes specific methods that will be useful for architects to put into practice what has come to be known as “the open building approach.” The book also discusses the development of a residential infill industry and the revitalization of architectural education.

Architects and academics sympathetic to his advocacy established a working committee, W104 Open Building Implementation, under the CIB umbrella. For the past quarter century, research and implementation have been conducted on an international scale. Architects around the world – in Europe, North America and Asia, and in the Global South - have designed housing complexes based on the open building approach.

Professor Habraken had a long and close relationship with Japanese university professors and architects. His theories have influenced KEP (Kodan/Kikou Experimental housing Project), CHS (Century Housing System), KSI (Koudan/Kikou Skeleton Infill), and Osaka Gas' experimental housing NEXT21. Another such example is the concept of variability in the "Law Concerning the Promotion of Long-term Quality Housing," which Professor Habraken praised as the world's first law on housing that incorporates the concept of time.

In his astonishingly focused and productive 95 years of life, Professor Habraken has consistently pursued the essence of cities and architecture, deepening his thoughts on the subjectivity of residents and the role of architects. He has received numerous international awards, including the most prestigious Dutch cultural award, the Ovre (1996). Now that he has passed away, we would like to continue to recognize and honor the essential significance of his ideas through the books and papers he left behind, as well as by his ‘passing the torch’ to another generation. We would like to express our deepest gratitude to him for his guidance.


 1928: Born in Bandung, Indonesia (October 29)
 1948-55: Studied architecture at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands
 1955-57: Served in the Royal Netherlands Air Force
 1958-60: Lecturer at Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture (Interior Design)
 1960-62: Freelance architect
 1962-65: Worked at the architectural office of Lucas & Niemeyer in Voorburg, The Netherlands
 1965-75: Director of SAR (Stichting Architecten Research/Foundation for Architects Research), Eindhoven, The Netherlands
 1967-1975: Professor and first Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at Eindhoven University of Technology
 1975-89: Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Head of Architecture Department 1975-1981
 1994: Honorary Member of the Architectural Institute of Japan
 2023: Died in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands (October 21)

Major Awards

 1988: Creative Achievement Award, the Association of Collegiate Schools in the US
 1979: David Roëll prize, Dutch Prince Bernhard Fund
 1996: Oevre Award, National Foundation for Art, Design, and Architecture(BKVB Oevre Prijs)in the Netherlands
 2003: Knight of the Royal Order of the Dutch Lion
 2003: Kubus for advancing the standing of Architecture, BNA, Dutch Association of Architects

Main Publications

Supports, an Alternative to Mass Housing,1972(Dutch,1961; English editions 1972, 1999, 2019)
The Grunsfeld Variations: A Report on the Thematic Development of an Urban Tissue, (with 10 graduate students); Department of Architecture, MIT (1981)
The Appearance of the Form: Four Essays on the Position Designing Takes between People and Things, (Awater Press, 1985; reissued by Routledge Revivals, 2019)
The Structure of the Ordinary: Form and Control in the Built Environment, MIT Press,1998
Palladio’s Children: Seven Essays on Everyday Environment and the Architect, Taylor & Francis,2005
Conversations With Form: A Workbook for Students of Architecture,Routledge,2014
The Short Works of John Habraken:Ways of Seeing/Ways of Doing (edited by Kendall and Dale), Routledge, 2023
Open Building for Architects, Professional Knowledge for an Architecture of Everyday Environment Co-authored with Professor Stephen H. Kendall, Routledge, 2023




・DE DRAGER/ A film about Architect John Habraken, 2013